At the end of last month, President Donald J Trump signed into law a $908 billion relief package in the larger omnibus budget legislation. Still, the President-elect has indicated they would be seeking additional help for a country devastated by a pandemic that is trending toward more than 400,000 to over a half million fatalities before this pandemic is over.
HR 133: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, in addition to COVID-19 relief, included the rest of FY 2021 appropriations and several other significant legislative matters such as health care programs (health care extenders), tax credit/deduction extenders due to expire, and some human service programs that were due to expire (TANF block grant).
Among the many critical relief measures in the COVID piece: unemployment assistance, a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, the second round of tax rebates of $600 per individuals or $1200 per couple; extending access to the child tax credit and earned income tax credit (EITC), child care and Head Start funding, home visiting flexibility to permit the use of virtual tools under the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV), education funding, rental assistance, nutrition increases, and substance abuse prevention and treatment funding all provided as supplemental relief.
Specific to child welfare, the COVID-19 package includes the Congressman Danny Davis-Congresswoman Jackie Walorski legislation (HR 7947). This includes $350 million through the Chafee program for expanded transition services, and it suspends the cap of 30 percent on how much can be spent on housing costs. There is an additional $50 million for the Chafee training and education vouchers with temporary increases in the maximum voucher amount per student from $5,000 up to $12,000 per youth, with states allowed to waive the work or education requirements if a young person is unable to meet the requirements due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
A young person can be eligible for services and assistance under Chafee until the age of 27, a young person may not become ineligible for foster care maintenance payments solely due to age before October 1, 2021, and a state may not require a young person to leave solely due to age.
Other sections targeted to child welfare include allowing states that are drawing down the new Family First Prevention Services to receive a 100 percent match in federal funds for the services (through the end of the fiscal year), $75 million in additional Promoting Safe and Stable Families funding (divided between adoption support, family preservation, reunification and family support services), $10 million more for the Court Improvement Program (CIP), and a fix of a problem with the CIP that meant every time it was renewed Congress had to find an additional $20
million a year in new funds just to maintain the program without increases, a 100 percent match for expanded kinship navigator programs even when programs do not meet the evidence-based threshold established under the Family First Act. Finally, a fix to the earlier increases in the Medicaid FMAP that could have cost former child welfare waiver-states to lose relief funds and restoration of Medicaid funding for the District of Columbia due to the way an earlier COVID Medicaid relief fund was structured.
The bill also includes the last nine months of FY 2021 funding. Key children’s programs can be found here. There were slight increases in child care funding, a $5 million increase in the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CB-CAP) funding under CAPTA, rising from $55 million to $60 million, and slight increases in other children’s funding. All of this is the regular appropriations and the last year of a ten-year budget cap.
Now the incoming Administration may seek to address what was not in this package or what may be expiring. States will be convening their new state legislatures in the next several weeks, and they are all likely to be confronted by large budget cuts. Accounts by the National Association of State Budget Officers indicate that a majority of states ended fiscal 2020 experiencing a decline in general fund revenues. The large swing in tax collections led to a 6 percent shortfall for states for fiscal 2020 in just a few months’ time. They called this just the beginning and went on to say, “…many governors and their administrations have directed agencies to develop budget reduction plans of as much as 15 percent or 20 percent for fiscal 2021 and/or fiscal 2022. Declines in state tax collections (and state spending) tend to lag the economic cycle and can take a long time to recover. After steep declines during the Great Recession, state general fund revenues took a decade to return to fiscal 2008 levels…”
An earlier bipartisan version of the December COVID-19 package had included $160 billion in state and local relief, but that was dropped when Majority Leader McConnell tied its fate to new legal liability restrictions. In addition to that issue, as Congress inserted the $600 rebates, much of the extended unemployment benefits were shortened as a way to keep overall costs down. Those benefits will run out earlier than planned in March. Numerous other needs will have to be addressed, such as rental assistance and how to help both renters and landlord deal with the growing rental debt resulting from eviction freezes, the need to protect essential workers, including child welfare, and help for other key industries that may be under severe pressure and did not get help in the December relief There will also be ongoing education, health care demands and across-the-board staffing cuts, including child welfare agencies at the state and local level.